A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada
In the 1920s, 20,000 Mennonites left the newly formed Soviet Union and emigrated to Canada. Among them were Heinrich and Helena Kroeger and their five children. After living for 120 years in the comfortable surroundings of a Russian Mennonite community, the Kroeger family experienced war, revolution, a typhus epidemic, and hyper-inflation in quick succession. In 1926, they left their homeland to settle in an arid region of Western Canada. Based on Heinrich's diaries and letters, and archival research, Hard Passage speaks to the indomitable spirit of Mennonite immigrants to the Canadian West.
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"The Kroeger family settled initially near the southeastern Alberta community of Naco (now a ghost town) and moved frequently from one abandoned farm to another, trying without much success, to make a living as farmers in an area known as the Palliser Triangle, a vast swath of heart-break territory across the three Prairie provinces that has inferior land and less rain than surrounding grain-growing areas. Crops were bad in the late 1920s in southeastern Alberta. The situation grew worse during the drought of the 1930s Depression. Meals at the Kroeger home were often boiled wheat, beet peelings or lard sandwiches.... [T]he facts of the stories, from the persecution of Mennonites in Russia, to their escape, and then their early deprivations on the Prairies, are mesmerizing and often brutal. The story of the discrimination they initially faced in Canada is timely and instructive... Paul Gessell, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2007.
"I'm reading Hard Passage again and can hardly put the book down. It's so gripping. From a reading of [the author's] father's diaries, he has so graphically brought to life the "Hard Journey" of his family. It is [my wife's family] story, as well as tens of thousands of others. A tragedy that is dedicated to our memory, as well as future generations." Ted Friesen, former President of the Canadian Mennonite Historical Society
"Both Justina and I have completed reading the most fascinating account of your family's odyssey, a hard passage indeed. Justina read it first and long before she was finished she kept saying, 'This is the best account of this kind we have,' and I agree. It is very sensitively done and deserves wide reading." Peter Penner, Calgary
"[Hard Passage] is a gripping story and hard to lay down. In fact, it would make an excellent movie." The Consort Enterprise, February 2007
"Arthur Kroeger.displays exacting research skills utilizing primary and secondary sources in Europe and North America as well as anecdotal family lore..Taken together, the resulting narrative conveys an intriguing history that skillfully situates the Mennonite story within its larger context." Wayne A. Holst, The Globe and Mail, April 21, 2007
"This book may seem like a family history but it is much more than that. True, it was written by a man who went through many of the difficult times mentioned in the book and can speak from first hand experience. But Arthur Kroeger also is an academic who served for ten years as Chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa. The result is a family history set in the larger framework of Mennonite history in Europe and Canada....This book is well written, authoritative, yet very personal because of the diaries of Heinrich Kroeger and the author's own recollections. This is a rare treat in the field of family histories." Alberta History, Spring 2007.
"Imagine a story about a middle-class family who suffers through famine, disease, racial intolerance and the assault of Russian revolutionaries and you might begin to understand where the Kroegers' steely determination comes from. Hard Passage is interesting as a family memoir and it is well researched. [I]ts a testimonial to the hard work of all immigrant families and their contribution to this nation." Susan Jones, St. Albert Gazette, May 2, 2007
"In 1971, after his father's death, Arthur investigated the contents of a wooden box, one of two treasures Heinrich had brought with him from the Soviet Union (the other was a family clock). He found that it contained the cryptic notebooks his father had kept for decades, as well as letters and other documents. The contents of the box, supplemented by Kroeger's meticulous research, became the basis of Hard Passage. The result is a clearly written, dispassionate rendering of a heartbreaking story. Yes, the family survived, and even went on to prosper, eventually. But from their arrival in 1926, until the 1940s, their survival was tenuous, indeed." Faith Johnston, Winnipeg Free Press, July 22, 2007
"Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada is the marvellous fruit of Kroeger's voyage of discovery. On the one hand it represents a recovery of his parents' story and an effort to place their lives in the context of broader historical forces: from the Russian revolution to the dawn of the Canadian welfare state. But in its quietly ambitious way, Kroeger's compelling book part memoir, part social history accomplishes much more. Deftly shuttling between the personal and the public realm, Kroeger dispenses with the simplistic notion that families are mere passive actors altered by forces beyond their control. Instead, he shows how 'ordinary lives,' in their collectivity, both shape and are shaped by the political and public policy structures in which they are embedded." Christopher Wiebe, Literary Review of Canada, Vol. 15, No. 8, October 2007
"Hard Passage does its title justice. The dispossession of the Russländer, the agonizing separation of families in the 1920's, the quest for land and the disappointment of failure and near starvation in a new and alien home are well chronicled here. Kroeger has done a great deal of research and his information rings true. The book includes enough maps, artifacts and photos to help the reader visualize the context and grasp the import of the decision by the Kroeger's to uproot and start over again, against the advice of family, actually. I appreciated Kroeger's documenting of the roles of people like B.B. Janz, David Toews, Colonel Dennis and Sir Edward Beatty (the latter two of the CPR). As North American Mennonites, we need to maintain the memory of the heroic deeds of these men. David Toews' courage in underwriting the massive Reiseschuld, for instance, is probably unprecedented in Mennonite history. The Mennonite Land Settlement Board's efforts to resettle and establish these Russländer while Canadian Mennonites were themselves struggling to survive is an epic tale not to be forgotten." George Epp [Full review at http://ca.blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-l0ypcCo2fql7qv1hXvc-?cq=1&p=44]
"Hard Passage reads like an epic novel: a family saga spanning two continents and two generations in turbulent times..Woven throughout the story of the Kroeger family is the question of identity and belonging. Who are the Mennonites as a group and individually? Kroeger provides tantalizing clues to a layered identity that bring ethnic history to a micro level....The cultural identity of the members of the Kroeger family also goes beyond the familiar ethnic tropes of language, food, religion, and artifacts....Another fascinating element in this immigrant story is the role of women....Kroeger's book is a compelling read. It is a wonderful social history of minority experiences in Civil War Russia and immigrant life in Depression Canada." Angelika E. Sauer, The American Review of Canadian Studies, Autumn, 2007.
"Kroeger has now written a brief, eloquent account of how his family came to Alberta. While in one way Hard Passage is the story of Heinrich and Helena Kroeger, his parents, at a deeper level it evokes the experience of an entire generation of Mennonite settlers, the second wave that came to Canada during the 1920s. Many Mennonites left Russia [in 1874], but those who stayed behind, as did the Kroegers, would suffer horrifically before survivors of the revolution, civil war, epidemic and starvation to come would escape to other areas like Canada. Several recent books have chronicled the Mennonite experience. Their stories form a saga that should be remembered." Ken Tingley, The Edmonton Journal, January 27, 2008
"Hard Passage is an intelligent, innovative, and eloquently written family history. The book's real contribution lies in the elaborate context Kroeger creates for the clan's history. Kroeger's own career as a senior civil servant seems to equip him with a special interest in and the ability to outline the workings of the state and its agencies and the effect of government policy on the lives of ordinary people. There is much explanation here of the workings of specific credit systems, welfare programs, citizenship laws, migration trends, orders-in-councils, and so on. The family history is the platform on which a meticulously considered history of emigration, immigration, settlement, and integration is told. [Readers] are guided in a very personal manner through the maze of an immigrant's departure from Europe and settlement in western Canada. This guiding is strengthened by Kroeger's own personal recollections." Royden Loewen, Chair of Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg, Great Plains Quarterly, Spring 2008
"Arthur Kroeger's memoirs of his family's experiences in the Chortiza region of Russia in the early twentieth century and their immigration to southeastern Alberta in 1926 are remarkable for his felicitous details, his even-tempered handling of painful history, and his prudent selection of family memories. ... It helps tremendously that Arthur Kroeger knows public policy as well as he knows his family history. ... The book is evenly divided between the Kroeger family's struggles in Russia and in Canada. In some surprising instances, the Canadian situation was possibly more brutal. Kroeger reminds us of the Canadian government's almost complete refusal to be responsible for the poor in the 1930's; even when a 1937 commission found that two-thirds of Saskatchewan farmers were destitute, federal leaders mocked the findings. ... One receives from Kroeger's memoir a good understanding of just what a difficult decision it must have been to emigrate." Sue Sorensen, Canadian Literature 197, Summer 2008
"After his father's funeral in 1971, the author of this book inherited a box containing handwritten documents in German, a few official documents in Russian, a diary from 1911, notebooks covering the 1920s in Russia and Canada, a certificate of naturalization, and letters, postcards and photographs. He read histories of the Mennonites, examined the archives of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and interviewed survivors of the events chronicled in the historical data he collected. This book is in part an attempt to know more about his parents. ... Written with affection and much first-hand experience, and dedicated to his parents, this book is a suitable tribute to an interesting people, and should prove of value to students of Russian and Canadian history." Frederick Jones, Bournemouth, British Journal of Canadian Studies, 21.1
"Moving seamlessly from the early fur trade era to the initial mountaineering period, and then from the era of mass tourism to a reflection on the relationship between history and contemporary management issues, Culturing Wilderness provides a fascinating and extremely valuable account of the human history that is so often ignored in writing about the national parks. Some potential readers may wonder, however, wheather an entire volume on a single nationlal park will sustain their interest. they need not worry, for under MacLaren's careful guidence Culturing Wilderness argues powerfully that the close study of individual national parks is captivating precisely because human beings have invested so much cultural baggage in these seminatural places. ... Moreover, unlike many academic books, Culturing Wilderness is visually stunning, a lavishly illustrated volume with historical photographs, maps and graphic material that presents the reader with valuable record of changing human perceptions of landscape in the Jasper region. The images are not simply pleasing to the eye, however. The authors use historical paintings juxtaposed with contemporary photographs, tourism pamphlets, detailed boundary maps, and stunning examples of repeat photography to illustrate the means by which landscape become aesthetic, administrative, or commercial objects. This creative interplay between text and image makes Culturing wilderness one of the most innocative and significant contributions to the growing historical literature on national parks in Canada." The American Review of Canadian Studies, Autumn 2008
"Kroeger's book is a well-written and readable narrative. While the reader may occasionally wish for additional depth, the portrayal of his family's experiences in Russia and Canada offers a richly textured narrative in which context and specific experiences are nicely blended. The book is a unique combination of memoir, history and biography, and Kroeger subtly weaves together each genre in constructing his story." Hans Werner, The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol. 82, October 2008
"Kroeger gives us a fascinating, moving and articulate account of both his family's experience and the history of the Mennonite exodus from Russia to Canada." Colin Russell, The Dalhousie Review, 2009
"The narrative of this interesting book follows developments pertaining to a second emigration of Mennonites to Canada in 1925-26, the first having arrived in the 11870s.... Kroeger is a good storyteller.... The book very ably tells the story of one family, but it also serves as a vehicle by which to document the very challenging events that shaped the lives of the people, who, during the early part of the last century, chose to settle in this part of the country." John W. Friesen, Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2008
"The book ably tells the story of one family, but it also serves as a vehicle by which to document the challenging events that shaped the lives of those who, during the early part of the last century, chose to settle in Canada's West." John W. Friesen, University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 78, No. 1, Winter 2009
"Hard Passage is a family history, in the same vein as many family histories that have been published in recent decades. However, Arthur Kroeger's writing includes substantially more historical research and analysis than do many family histories. As a result, this book will appeal to a broader audience, including other Mennonites and academics interested in Mennonite immigration and prairie history." David M. Quiring, Canadian Book Review Annual Online, 2007
Other Titles by Arthur Kroeger
Other Titles in HISTORY / Canada / Post-Confederation (1867-)